My Brother Ali

During our bus ride to Chefchaouan, the blue pearl of Morocco, I was anxious about spending the weekend with a host family whose name I couldn’t even pronounce without embarrassing myself. What scared how me most was being in a house full of people living harmoniously together. Back home, that was something I’d never experienced.

As I was contemplating the situation and mentally rehearsing my coping skills, we pulled up to a house and were herded inside to meet our new families. As I listened to the introductions, one guy piqued my curiosity. He was on the shorter side, wearing a red T-shirt and suede sneakers. When it was his turn, he said his name and age ­— Ali, age 25 — and stepped back in line.

It was as if the universe was on my side that day, because Ali ended up as the brother I’ve always wanted. I grew up with two sisters much older than me, and although they are great siblings, I have always yearned for the experience of having a brother. Ali fit that role to a T.

My bond with him started when I asked him about his experience during the lockdown.

“What did you do? How did you cope, yadda yadda yadda?”

“Covid was really difficult for small business, the nightlife, and people’s mental health. But for me, it wasn’t too bad.” He looked away, as if he felt guilty for getting off easy while other people suffered.

“I usually don’t get to see my family very often,” he explained, “but during the lockdown I was home, and I spent a lot of time with them.” He looked lovingly at his mom, an older woman who was racing around in the kitchen.

“I was also able to make a decent amount of money by launching an online career for myself,” he continued. “People couldn’t go out and shop, so through the Internet I was able to do it for them and have things shipped to their door. It kept me busy and gave me a steady income.” He didn’t even smile when recounting his accomplishments, but I could tell he was immensely grateful for the opportunities that arose for him during the pandemic.

At first, I was surprised at his tale because I had expected to hear a sad story about isolation and financial hardship. Depressing times and financial difficulty. But as we spoke, I realized I could relate to his experience. I, too, had a comparatively easy lockdown. I was an “essential worker,” — I worked at a gas station selling cigarettes and snacks. After putting in my eight hours, I’d go home to my mom. During that period, our relationship grew much stronger, as I began to understand her on a different level.

I smiled at Ali, feeling like we were mysteriously connected like the ancient houses of Chefchaouan.

Dana Smyth is a Medical Biology (Pre-Physician Assistant Track) at the University of New England.

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